Are fleas making you itch?

Extension Daily:

The Low-Down on fleas


Fleas, like many of nature’s pests, are persistent and hard to eliminate.  These pests are problematic because of their hardy, durable nature. It can sometimes take multiple approaches to rid your household of these pests. Although fleas are considered less dangerous than some common household pests, they should still be treated as quickly as possible.

Your family pets are susceptible to picking up fleas if they go outside or are around other animals that go outside. Fleas are able to jump from host to host because of their strong back legs that let them jump long distances. Robert Spencer,  an animal science specialist with  Alabama Extension, advises the use of flea and tick prevention when outside and inside pets interact.

“This practice reduces potential problems with indoor pets and households. The fleas initially infest the outdoor animals and through interaction with household pets, the fleas can become a pet and household problem.”

This advice should not be taken lightly either. Apart from possible infestations of the home, fleas also carry diseases and organisms, such as tape worms. Once your animal becomes infested with fleas, the flea larvae have a high possibility of transferring tape worms to your pet. As Dr. Xing Ping Hu, an Alabama Extension entomologist, says the life cycle of a tape worm starts as eggs which are ingested by the flea larvae.  Once inside the flea, the eggs continue to grow to their immature form. An animal, usually during a scratching fit, eats the flea carrying tapeworm larvae.  Once inside the intestine, the tapeworm larvae separate from the flea and grow to complete its full life cycle. Then tape worms lay eggs in the intestines which pass out of the body in the animal feces, allowing the cycle to begin again.

“A tapeworm cannot be passed from cat to cat or dog to dog. It must live part of its life in the flea first.  Most of the flea life cycle is spent in the environment and not on the pet. Therefore, stringent flea control is the key in preventing tapeworms in animals. You need to treat the house and outdoors for fleas the same time you treat your pets,” Hu said.

Because tape worms are transmitted via fleas, owners who regularly treat their pets for fleas reduce the potential for tapeworm infection. Pet owners who don’t regularly administer flea control medicine are the owners who run the higher risk of their animals getting worms.

Apart from tapeworms, fleas can transmit various infectious diseases to both animals and humans, Hu said. Cat scratch diseases and flea-borne spotted fever are two diseases that can be passed to humans.

Fleas by themselves pose a serious problem too. . Because fleas reproduce rapidly within the two days of their first blood meal, Hu reports they can lay an average of 27 eggs per day, which can add up to 5,000 over their life span.

“The tolerance of flea on pets and in the home is zero. Take care of a flea problem the moment you see if happening, which is usually the adult stage,” said Hu.

Besides the fast rate in which fleas reproduce, resulting in home invasion faster than you can blink, they also can make your pet miserable.  When fleas bite pets, they make your cat or dog itch and itch, which can lead to skin tears, hair loss and inflammation. Secondary skin infections can appear in sensitive or flea-allergic animals, called flea allergy dermatitis.

So what can you do to stop and prevent fleas from wreaking havoc on your house and pets? First, go to your local veterinarian or pet store and buy a flea and tick preventative.  That’s the first step to keeping fleas at bay.  Second, if you are already experiencing flea problems, remove pets from areas where fleas are and wash pets in a mild detergent (such as Dawn) or shampoo that is designed to kill fleas and eggs. If your yard  is infected, do your best to keep your pets inside until the outdoor problem is fixed. Hu recommends the best method to keeping a flea-free yard and a flea-free home is to keep a flea-free pet.

For the treatment of pets, use adulticides because the adult fleas are what stays on pets; the larvae usually nestle in your carpet or fabric material in the house. For dogs, Advantage and Frontline are two quality products that control adult fleas on dogs from one to three months. A flea collar or oral medication can be used to prevent egg hatching.

To treat the infested areas, such as your carpet, you need to use multiple treatments that kill fleas at all life stages. For eggs and adults, vacuum as much as possible to suck them up, but for larvae and pupae another type of treatment will be needed.

“If you neglect to treat the premises of your home, you will miss more than 90% of the developing flea population,” Hu warned.

Fleas are a problem that can easily get out of hand. Since, they are small and undetectable from a distance, you can miss the early warning signs of infestation. Knowing what to look for is an important part to preventing fleas on your animals and in your home.

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